Grabow feels strong enough to make a difference

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Grabow feels strong enough to make a difference

Thursday, March 17, 2011Posted: 7:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX John Grabow will make 4.8 million this year, or essentially as much as Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined. The Cubs need him to be the bridge to the back end of their bullpen.

The blueprint was drawn up so that Wood and Sean Marshall will be protecting leads and Marmol wont go weeks between save opportunities. The strength of this team wont matter if the Cubs are trailing 5-2 and losing the middle innings.

Grabow earned that two-year deal because he was so durable and effective, two traits he did not show last season. He tried to pitch through the pain in his left knee and live up to his contract but couldnt.

The Cubs werent overly concerned about Grabows sore left shoulder, but they had to be encouraged after seeing him on the mound Thursday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The 32-year-old reliever hadnt pitched in a game since the Cactus League opener on Feb. 27.

As Grabow walked back to the dugout after working a scoreless seventh inning, manager Mike Quade got up from his chair to give him a high-five. Grabow feeling good about his knee, shoulder and arm strength was the biggest takeaway from a 6-5 loss to the Oakland As.

The more the merrier, Quade said. We can talk about Marsh, Marm and Woody all day long. (But) we know its going to take a lot more than those guys. You (need) options (when) you go through a tough stretch where you have to pound on those guys two, three days in a row.

Grabow has appeared in 443 games since the start of the 2004 season, which ranks second-most among all left-handers in baseball. But he didnt even make it to the 2010 All-Star break, eventually shut down last summer with an MCL tear and a 7.36 ERA.

Through that experience Grabow learned that sometimes you need to back off, which is what he did recently after feeling tightness in his left shoulder.

The added intensity and the added reps maybe my body just wasnt ready for it, Grabow said. Three or four years ago, I just might have kept on going and made things worse. Now I kind of listen to my body and learn from mistakes in the past. Everythings worked out so far.

The Cubs think Grabow only needs about six more innings to be ready by Opening Day. After spending almost his entire professional life with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he feels added urgency.

Its going to be a great bullpen, and Id love to be a part of it, Grabow said. My whole career this is probably the best chance Ive got to go to the playoffs. So Im going to take advantage of that.

The difference between the Cubs being contenders or playing in front of empty seats at Wrigley Field will hinge in part on Grabow and their remodeled bullpen.

Id love to see him get back to when he was at his best, Quade said. I believe with his knee healthy (and) his shoulder strong, thats what well see.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."